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How to Buy a Mattress in Morocco

Sep 4

Written by:
9/4/2010 1:10 PM  RssIcon

How to Buy a Mattress in Morocco, in 2 Acts

By Karen Rupprecht, Peace Corps Volunteer Morocco, 2006-2008 

Act I, Scene 1 
Setting: Cafe in Ouaouizert (yes, 7 vowels, 3 consonants), a nearby town. 
Characters: My Berber language tutor Zitouni (means "Olive" in Berber; make note of this for later), me

After finishing our lesson on the finer points of pronouncing such impossibilities as “adghrigh,” I switch topics and ask Zitouni how much I might expect to pay for a mattress. (Being an obvious foreigner, I am usually assumed to be a tourist and thereby rich, inviting inflated prices from merchants. Good to have a local advise on prices.) Wait for the blank stare...there it is. Turns out mattreses range in price from 200 – 200 dirhams. Hmm. Seeing my consternation, Zitouni suggests that we head over to the local furniture store (which happens, conveniently, to be owned by his father) to inspect the array of choices.

Act I, Scene 2 
Setting
: Furniture store 
Characters: Zitouni, Zitouni's father Saïd, me

Lest the term "furniture store" leave the impression of a High Atlas Ethan Allen, please envision meandering tent-lined alleyways filled with bustling shoppers and shouting merchants manning toolshed-sized stalls. It's suq day, when locals travel hours by foot, mule and taxi for their weekly rations. In the middle of all of this, Saïd is camped out with his tent of household goods. The tent stands next to his permanent store, a glorified closet boasting 10 or so floor cushions, called “ponges” – the typical rural Moroccan “mattress” that I’m hoping to avoid. My eyes skim the dark room and I start to fear the worst: Zitouni misunderstood me, and I will have to settle for two years of disquieted slumber and sciatica. But at last, there it is: the holy grail/real mattress. After the traditional five-minute long Moroccan greeting, the three of us discuss prices, I wipe the drool from my face from staring at the plush (but somewhat pricey) “Euro-mattress,” and we agree that I will think about it until Saturday – suq day in my own village, Tilouguite – when Saïd will transport the mattress to Tilouguite in his truck for me to make a final judgment call.

Act I, Scene 3 
Setting: Ouaouizert, again, the following Saturday 
Characters: Rashid, Garlic, Lyon, Italy, me, and a take-out tajine

I'm on my way back from the provincial capital, hoping to get to Tilouguite in time to buy that mattress of greatness from Saïd at suq. Should be no problem; it's only 10:15 a.m. and I'm an hour away. I’m greeted with the news, however, that men are working on the rickety suspension bridge between Ouaouizert and Tilouguite (I call it the Bridge O'Doom and mentally rehearse the steps of escaping from a sinking car every time I cross it), and there won't be any transportation until 4:00 p.m. – too late for suq/mattress salvation.

How I passed that span of time, though, was a rather telling story in itself, involving a friend of my tutor (recall: “Olive”) whose name means “Garlic,” a random French student from Lyon living in Ouaouizert for the summer, and a friend of Garlic named Rashid, who invited Garlic and me to eat lunch at his house. Rashid’s son works in Italy but has just returned home for a vist; he speaks Berber with an Italian accent. (This makes me giggle; no one else seems to see the humor.) Given the mysterious absence of a wife or daughter, I was wondering if manna or quail might be the mealtime fare, since most rural Moroccan men are not particularly given to cooking. Never fear, though: Italy disappears for a time and returns with the Peace Corps version of take-out: a huge (borrowed) clay-pot tajine delivered in a cardboard box. Of course.

Rashid, Garlic, Italy, Lyon and I have a jolly good time over lunch, mixing my still-rudimentary Berber with French, Arabic and even some English, all while enjoying our tajine from Speedy Mustafa’s Take-Away Tajine (probably not the real name of the purveyor). As time ticks away, though, it becomes increasingly clear that, with the mattress on one side of the Bridge of Doom and me on the other side, I will be sleeping on the floor again tonight.

Act II, Scene 1

Setting: Suq in Tilouguite, the following Saturday 
Characters: Saïd, Naaji the jeep driver, me

The predictably unpredictable Peace Corps nausea and weakness had struck overnight, so I really would have preferred to curl up and go right back to sleep on, well, my cement floor. Nevertheless, I had promised Saïd I would come at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. for the now-mythic mattress, so around 11:00 I finally stumble down the mountain path to suq. I then proceed to wander around the rocky pathways for nearly an hour, baking in the inexplicably powerful sun rays and fighting a sinus headache, absolutely at a loss as to where Saïd’s tent might be. (And yes, I had already passed him. Twice.)

Finally, after Saïd spots me and calls my name (3 or 4 times before I notice), he instructe me to go procure one of the jeeps hanging around suq, waiting for people needing goods transported. I proceed to do so, putting on a rather remarkable (in not really the most positive sense) display of language skills for Naaji the jeep driver in the effort. Here's where the fun starts. Naaji and I hop in the jeep and weave our way down the road, driving literally straight into suq. Yes, jeep-in-suq: with tents, innumerable shoppers, goats, random display on solar power, you name it – that suq. Horn honking, people staring, me sheepishly smiling and waving, merchants shifting tents to make way for the American princess who just had to have her oversized mattress. We retrieve the mattress from Saïd, load it on top of the jeep, then repeat the process in the reverse and head up the hill to my apartment.

 
Act II, Scene 2

Setting: My apartment  
Characters: Naaji, Aicha (host sister), Aicha (neighbor), me

Enter Mattress Brigade, stage left. Because a pile of dirt between the road and my door had prevented the jeep from reaching its ultimate destination, I recruit the two Aichas to help unload the mattress from the jeep and carry it to my place. We heave it, Ants-Go-Marching style, over our heads into the hallway of my apartment building. But we’re not there yet: I live on the second floor. What happened next defies verbal description; anyone familiar with the Friends “Pivot! PIVOT!” episode need only envision that scene translated into Berber. But the surprisingly strong Aïchas and the sickly-but-determined Peace Corps Volunteer ultimately prevailed, and the mattress is now resting happily on my bedroom floor, providing me with back support and sweet dreams for 21 months to come.

(Curtain closes; all live happily ever after.) 


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